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4 Cool Things You Never Knew About Sam Raimi’s Movie “The Evil Dead”

The Evil Dead Poster

The original movie “The Evil Dead” was praised as one of the best horror films by the great Stephen King.  Like many filmmakers in the early days of horror cinema, bringing “The Evil Dead” to the big screen was a bootstrap effort by a group of creative friends with big dreams (and non-existent production budget).

If you have watched “The Evil Dead” a hundred times (and still love it like we do) you will love some of the behind the scenes little known facts about how the film was created.  While today, large production companies at Netflix  and Hulu are buying up quality horror screenplays for original series or content, horror filmmakers had a tough grind in the 1970’s and early 1980’s to break into mainstream.

Here are four really cool things that horror movie fans may not know about “The Evil Dead” and how Sam Raimi made the film his launching pad to fame and fortune (with his high school buddies).

1.  The Film Was Based on a Short Film Called “Within the Woods”

In 1978, Sam Raimi released a short film that was based on an earlier piece he had written called “Clockwork”.   That piece was his original indie horror film and was only 7-minutes long, and the plot featured a violent home invasion. 

During the 1970’s, horror movies were an obscure niche that most movie production companies would not touch.  There was no real fanbase for horror or proof that a movie with a gory script would fill theater seats and be profitable.

Sam Raimi wanted to write and produce horror. But he had to show movie executives that it was a viable art form. When he produced “Within the Woods” he called on two of his friends, Bruce Campbell and Ellen Sandweiss, and the 7-minute movie was shot on a budget of $1,600 (U.S.).  Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were best friends, attending high-school together in Michigan.

To get his proof of concept in front of moviegoers, Sam Raimi begged a local friend (who owned a movie theater) to show “Within the Woods” as a double feature with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.  It screened well with audiences and drew the attention of investors. This allowed Raimi to fund his first full-length horror feature, “The Evil Dead”.  The movie “Within the Woods” was bait for seed money; and it worked.  Michigan doctors and dentists were some of their biggest investors.

Fans of “The Evil Dead” series will notice the original homage to the haunted woods in this early movie.  Something Sam Raimi drew inspiration from when he wrote: “The Evil Dead” and the demonic influence inside the dark Tennessee forest surrounding the infamous isolated cabin.  Hardcore fans will also recognize many of Raimi’s signature film editing tricks shown for the first time in “Within the Woods” and his soundtrack techniques to build suspense and terror.

2.  The Cabin in Tennessee Was Actually Cursed?

The first full-feature movie “The Evil Dead” was filmed at an abandoned cabin in Tennessee, which actually did not have a dark history until Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell did some storytelling, to support the promotion of the original movie.

Recognizing that horror fans liked a scary story based in real lore, Raimi and Campbell created a ghost story about a man named Emmett Talbot and his family.  And a haunted and traumatized sole survivor of a massacre in the cabin named ‘Clara’ Talbot, who would return on stormy nights, wandering in a senile state.  Raimi and Campbell also wrote that they could feel eyes on them the whole time they were filming on location.  The things you will say to sell tickets; Campbell confirmed decades later that the story was promotional lore.

Today, the only parts that remain of the cabin where the original movie was filmed, is the stone fireplace and some of the chimney.  After filming was done, Sam Raimi is said to have burned the cabin down, claiming that it was actually haunted.  Perhaps the incantations used during the movie were legit (Raimi is a production purist) and he was afraid of what might actually have been released into the cabin, and the surrounding areas.  The official ‘story’ is that the cabin was accidentally burned down by trespassers who were having a party at the location.  We will never know.

The cast and crew of “The Evil Dead” have stated that they buried a time capsule in or near the fireplace of the old cabin, high in the Appalachian mountains.  It is now private property, but thousands of horror fans apparently flock to the site in Morristown Tennessee annually.  

Photo: Jess Bradshaw (Atlas Obscura)

3. The Film Ran Out of Funds and Bruce Campbell Saved the Day

In spite of every attempt to keep special effects organic (or homemade) in the movie, (oatmeal, guts made from marshmallow strings, and real Madagascar cockroaches from Michigan State University), funds ran out during production.

Bruce Campbell earned himself an Executive Producer title on the film, after he placed a large parcel of his family’s private land as collateral to borrow money to finish the project.  The high school friends dreamed for years of making the film and becoming pioneers in a new emerging genre.

https://youtu.be/lI4O-hELwIM

Sam Raimi reflected decades later that the hardest part of filming “The Evil Dead” was not set design, props, the fake-blood covered sticky floor (and equipment)  or managing the actors and script.  It was having to pause production and raise money several times to be able to finish the movie.  

The stop-and-go flow of production created another problem.  The movie originally began with a cast and crew of twenty (20) people, but the working conditions at the cabin and the authentic  stunts actually got a few people injured.  The original actors started leaving the movie and refused to show up on the set. 

Thankfully, the heavily caked movie makeup required for the Deadites (possessed character) at the end helped complete the production. Both Campbell and Raimi asked friends to stand in for actors for the final scenes to wrap the movie.  These stand-in friends and family are credited on the film as ‘Fake Shemps’ (a Three Stooges reference).

4. There Was Almost a Crossover With “Friday the 13th” and Jason Voorhees  

Fans of the “Friday the 13th” movies may remember that at the end of ‘Jason Goes to Hell’ there is a scene where the Necronomicon is prominently featured. Did the book look familiar? The prop was developed to be an exact replica of the infamous book in “The Evil Dead”.

Personally, we think that crossover would have been cool.  It would have opened the idea that all instances of demonic influence and supernatural emanated from the legendary ‘Book of the Dead’.  Unfortunately, when the two creative teams came together there was a dispute, where they could not decide if Jason Voorhees would kill Ash at the end of the movie. 

Since they could not reconcile the dispute, the partnership dissolved, and we’ll never be able to see Ash take a bite out of Jason with a chainsaw.  Was Jason really a Deadite?  We will never know.

Photo: Renaissance Pictures 

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Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

5 Cursed Horror Movies Based on True Stories

It stands to reason that when you make a horror movie based on a dark entity or malevolent spirits that some of that dark energy may be drawn to you or the movie set. It’s a risk that horror movie producers take especially when the horror film is based on a true story. These haunting tales come directly from actors, directors, and staff working on the movies themselves. It’s not just bad luck that cursed these movies it was everything from murder and near-death experiences to just plain creepy events – here are the top 5 cursed horror movies of all time.

Poltergeist Horror Movie Poster 1983

Poltergeist

This film is probably the most well-known cursed film in the world. Loosely based on a true story, the events that happened behind the scenes are just as strange as the movie itself. Death seemed to follow not just the actors that played in the first movie but also in Poltergeist 2 and 3 as well. Dominque Dunne, who played the older sister, was killed by her boyfriend. Julian Beck, who played Henry Kane, died of stomach cancer. The actress who played Carol Anne died when she was 12 from a mysterious illness before Poltergeist 3 was released. Will Sampson, who played the Shaman, died 3 years after the film was released. Then in 2009 Lou Perryman, who was in the first film, was killed in his home by an ex-convict wielding an ax. Lastly, Richard Lawson barely survived a plane crash in 1992. These deaths could be a coincidence but that’s a lot of disaster for such a small group of people. If the true story was not enough rumor also has it the director Steve Spielberg used real skeletons in the muddy pool from the first movie.

The Amityville Horror – 2005 version

Based on real events experienced by the Lutz family. With the horrors the Lutz family went through it is no wonder the movie crew had some strange experiences. A dead body washed up on shore near the home that was used in the movie. Allegedly the cast and crew were awakened at 3:15 every morning while working on the movie. 3:15 was the time that the murders took place.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose follows the trial of a priest who conducted an exorcism and the girl(Emily) who died. It is based on the real exorcism of Anneliese Michel, who died of dehydration and malnutrition. Jennifer Carpenter, who played Emily, said during filming her radio would turn on by itself, in the middle of the night. It only played the song Alive by Pearl Jam. In fact, it only played a specific part over and over. “I’m still alive.” But it wasn’t just her. It happened to other cast members so often that they removed their radios from their rooms.

The Possession Horror Movie Poster

The Possession

The Possession is based on the true story of a Dybbuk box. During filming, they used a fake dybbuk box but strange things still happened. There was a constant creepy, eerie feeling on set. Light bulbs exploded and props caught fire for some unknown reason. So many strange things happened that when the current owners of the box asked if the film would like to use the real box, everyone vehemently declined.

The Conjuring

Based on a true story, The Conjuring is about a farmhouse that was haunted by a witch. Cast and crew members felt like they were being watched by a dark force. A crew member’s dog was often found growling at nothing but when filming was done, he stopped. A strange fire started on set for no reason. Actress Ver Farmiga said there were claw marks on the cover of her laptop after filming finished.

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Featured Lifestyle Scary Movies and Series

5 Dangerous Things You Should Never Do With a Ouija Board

Ouija image

Head to any major retail store and you’ll probably find a Ouija board in the kids game section.  Next to Monopoly and Cards Against Humanity? Seriously?   Unless you are an occult practitioner or someone who has studied the paranormal, a Ouija board probably looks harmless, like any other board game.  

But talk to people who have had a creepy or downright terrifying experience misusing a Ouija board, and they’ll tell you that it is anything but. And there are a lot of stories out there that inspire some of the most bone-chilling paranormal books and horror movies.  We know many people who had the kind of experience with a Ouija board that was so bad, they will not even sit in the same room with one.  Even if it is in the box. 

The Origin of the Name and the Ouija Board Game

In the United States, spirit boards were used starting as early as the 1880’s.  There were spiritualist camps popping up all over America, but the boards were particularly popular in Ohio.  Four years later, a local businessman named Elijah Bond patented the ‘game’ and started selling it in stores.  An employee (William Fuld) named it “Ouija”.

There is a popular misconception that the word “Ouija” comes from the French and German words for ‘yes’ (Oui) and (Ja).  The origin of the name is a little more mysterious than that, but hotly disputed.  First, William Fuld indicated that the term ‘Ouija’ was derived from an Egyptian word, meaning ‘good luck’.   But this was more of a marketing thing; it helped him dispel concerns that people had about contacting the other side. 

Historians claim that Elijah Bond had a sister-in-law named Helen Peters who was a strong and renowned medium and spiritualist.  The story goes that they were using a spirit board together and they asked the spirits what they should call the board; it spelled out ‘Ouija’.  However, Helen Peters was also wearing a locket with a picture of a women’s rights activist and novelist named Ouida.  

The consensus is that the spirit saw the locket and had really bad spelling. 

After the game was patented by Elijah Bond, the sales of the classic Ouija board skyrocketed between 1920 – 1960 worldwide.  For the first twenty years, the board retailed at $150 which for the time was insanely expensive.  In 2020, that would convert to about $1,900.00 per board.   Only the rich and the elite could afford to talk to the dead.  Now you can find them for under $20.00, or at thrift shops (although we definitely do not recommend buying one used). 

There are actually over 20 different rules that occult experts identify as essential for safely using a Ouija board.  We are going to focus on the top 5 ‘what not to do’ with a spirit board.  And talk about some examples of what could happen if you do not follow the rules.   

1. Never Use a Ouija Board In Your Home 

Okay, so we know this sounds counterintuitive.  You bought the thing, and now you want to use it.  It make sense to retreat to your bedroom or maybe your kitchen table, light a candle and start using your Ouija board.  But this is actually one of the worst things you can do. 

Spiritualists and mediums, white witches and other paranormal practitioners and specialists are comfortable using a spirit board because they know how to block out spiritual influences, and malevolent beings.  You however, don’t have the experience to deal with an entity that comes through your Ouija board to make themselves comfortable in your home. 

The more personal your space is (i.e., your bedroom or your car) the easier it is for a spirit or demon to attach its energy to you.  We are pretty sure you know how that story ends, because just about every Ouija horror story and movie is based on that outcome.  So, don’t do that. 

2. Keep Talking to a Countdown Spirit 

You cannot contain the excitement when the planchette moves for the first time.  We all go through the same “Dude, you moved it” and “No man, I swear I didn’t” motions until we understand that we have actually connected with a spirit. 

But if your planchette seems to be counting down numbers, what do you do?  Say GOODBYE immediately.  Much like a nuclear bomb, the countdown on a Ouija board is a spirit who is attempting to come through the board.  And the ones that are strong enough to do that, are not always nice. In fact, they are dangerous.  Don’t keep talking through a countdown, or you may be heading to the paranormal danger zone. 

3. Dare the Entity to Show Proof (In a Rude Way)

In the movies, you know how the people using the Ouija board ask for some kind of proof that they are talking to a spirit? Something innocuous, like move the table, or make the lights flicker, or force the temperature of the room to become noticeably colder. We get it. You are excited that you finally have proof of intelligent paranormal life, and a chatty ghost.  

Asking for a few harmless signs is okay but understand that you are taking a big risk.  First of all, your average safe spirit (think Casper) does not have as much strength as a malevolent demon does.  And when you ask for a demonstration of power, you may bet more than you asked for.   And mocking a spirit is a definite no-no; it can flex and show you just how much power it has, and harm you, other occupants of the room, or start applying unwelcome influence that puts you at risk. 

4. Communicate with a Spirit Who Demonstrates the Figure 8

This is another thing that some horror movies get really wrong. The characters are sitting at a table, and the Ouija board seems to warm up, by making a figure 8 with the planchette.  Cool!  You connected right? Yeah, you did, but the figure 8 is a demonic sign that implies eternity, and more specifically, eternal torment.  So, if your planchette starts moving in a figure 8, immediately say GOODBYE.  You are talking to the ‘Dark Side of the Force”. 

5. Make Friends With a Spirit Named ‘ZoZo’

In 2009, an average joe kind of guy named Darren Evans posted a very public warning about using Ouija boards; in particular, he warned about a charming demon named ‘ZoZo’. After that announcement went viral, so did appearances of ZoZo on Ouija boards around the world.  

According to lore and testimonials from victims of ZoZo, he  begins with a figure-8 formation, and then rapidly pushes the planchette to spell “Z” “O” “Z” “O”.  The origins of the demon are thought to be Sumerian, or African, and he was referenced in the 1818 publication Le Dictionnaire Infernal (demon encyclopedia written by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy). 

This celebrity entity likes to stay on top of the news feed, and is historically known for stalking individuals through spirit boards.  And because demons are clever, he also goes by the name ZaZa, Oz, Zo, Za and sometimes Abacus or Mama. 

He doesn’t play nice.  The internet is full of stories of possessions and terrified individuals who connected with him on Ouija boards and were not able to say “GOODBYE” no matter how hard they tried.  

One of the mysterious complications about using a Ouija board is getting rid of the thing.  You bought it (or received it as a gag gift) and used it.  You scared the crap out of yourself and now you want to get rid of it, so you can just throw it away right?  Not so easy.  The internet is also full of stories about Ouija boards sent to the trash, and mysteriously returning, with the planchette on top of the board. Even after it has been burned to ashes. 

Ponder that one, and maybe think twice before attempting to talk to the ‘other side’ unless you are one of those rare people that will actually follow every one of the safety rules.   You may not get a ‘do over’ if you mess it up. 

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Best Of Best of Movies Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

5 Great Horror Movies Based On Urban Legends

Horror movies are always more effective when reminiscent of, or straight up depicting, real world fears. What better way to terrify the masses than by visually portraying urban legends, some of the most widespread of superstitions and irrational paranoias? Many of these folk horror films are tackled by smaller directors looking to kickstart, though some bigger budget gems have been known to shine through. 

Triangle 2009

Triangle Folk Horror movie poster with girl holding axe on a boat with a bloody reflection

Triangle is a twisting, turning, chilling British horror/thriller from Christopher Smith, director of Severance (2006) and Black Death (2010). A potent hybrid of old school slasher à la Friday 13th (1980) and mind-bending science fiction in the vein of Predestination (2014) and Coherence (2013), this unsettling nautical romp is certain to please fans of both. When Jess, a single mother, embarks on a boating trip with her friends, a storm forces them to abandon their vessel for a seemingly deserted cruise liner. Once aboard, the group are faced with a deranged killer, along with waves of psychological mayhem and headache-inducing time loops. 

As the name may suggest, Triangle is centred around the infamous Bermuda Triangle, a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean. The region is said to have played setting to, and been the culprit of, a great number of obscure sightings and disappearances leading back to 1492. It was then that Christopher Columbus and the crew of the Santa Maria sailed through the triangle to arrive at Guanahani, though not before reportedly seeing a strange and unknown light in the sea fog. Since then a great deal of boats and aeroplanes have disappeared in the sinister sea-region, from the USS Wasp in 1814 to Turkish Airlines flight TK183 in 2017, some carrying upwards of a hundred passengers at the time of disappearance. 

Triangle does great justice to the eerie and unexplainable legend of the Bermuda Triangle, it’s warping story leaving viewers guessing and re-guessing until its bleak and poignant closing scene. Weight is added through Smith’s use of bloody violence and tense horror, creating a soft hybrid of a film which remains as entertaining and thought provoking now as it ever was. 

Bermuda is not the only area that has a mysterious triangle. The Alaska Triangle has similar tales albeit over land.

The Blair Witch Project 1999

Blair Witch Project 1999 Movie poster with scared face and text

This pioneer of the found-footage subgenre shocked audiences in 1999 with a claustrophobic and wholly believable portrayal of young adults falling victim to the legend of the mysterious Blair Witch. After setting off into rural Maryland to document and hopefully capture some evidence of the insidious figure, including interviewing locals and camping in some questionable spots, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams (playing themselves) soon become lost in the vast wilderness. Seemingly stalked and tormented by the very myth they sought to invoke, the three encounter dread and distress enough to make any viewer think twice about their next camping trip.

Of course, the legend of the Blair Witch is just that, a legend. That being said, it had more of an interesting start than most. Writer-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez fabricated an entire urban legend regarding the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, plastering missing-person posters around the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and claiming their footage was real. Sundance legally had to confirm the film as a work of fiction, though this did not lessen the impact the marketing ploy had. The rise of a $60,000 indie flick to $248,000,000 blockbuster is staggering, as is the influence the film has had on the horror scene long after its release. 

The Blair Witch Project relied on a strong cast utilising a lot of improvisation to help its desired effect come to life. Not just for the claims of authenticity (though it did help those) but for the raw and genuine atmosphere running through the flick. The actors camped for ten days in the Maryland wilderness while cremembers posed as their antagonist, leaving stick figures and bloody packages at camp, shaking their tents in the early hours. Only Heather, of the three, was given any information about the witch to ensure the others gave authentic reactions and asked plenty of questions. 

While this type of filmmaking can come with complications, such as the actors’ parents being sent sympathy cards over their children’s fictional deaths to this day, it shows a complete commitment from cast and crew. To make something with this impact, small sacrifices must sometimes be made, though we’ll leave it up to the creators to decide whether it was worth it.

Willow Creek 2013

Willow Creek Folk Horror Movie poster with a big foot imprint and red background

When Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) and Jim (Bryce Johnson) travel into Humboldt County, California on a camping trip to find the famous wildman, Bigfoot, their faith and will to survive are tested in equal measure. 

If Willow Creek isn’t a tribute to The Blair Witch Project then it’s at least a loving nod. Effectively sparse and utilising tireless and detailed acting from what is effectively a cast of two, prolific writer/director/comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial foray into tense horror is a potent one. It shares Blair Witch’s theme and structure almost to a tee, other than replacing Myrick and Sánchez’ fictitious urban legend with one very much known in the real world.

Bigfoot, also referred to as Sasquatch in Canadian and American folklore, is an ape-like wildman of worldwide legend and innumerable alleged sightings. While all accounts of the Bigfoot are anecdotal, or highly disputable video footage or photographs, it manages to retain one of the highest cult followings of any urban legend, with followers deeply entrenched in the culture of searching out and worshipping the elusive ape-man. 

Bigfoot has been a figurehead in popular culture for years, appearing on television, in films and countless pieces of merchandise. A few horror films such as Exists (2014) and Evidence (2012) have included the towering hair-covered phenomenon as an antagonist, though none quite so efficaciously as this one.

Ringu 1998 / The Ring 2002

The Ring Horror Movie poster showing a glowing supernatural ring

This Japanese frightfest and its American counterpart are a perfect example of a western adaptation done right. Japan has always had a distinct and dynamic take on horror as a genre, favouring dark spaces, pale ghosts with jet black hair and some truly unsettling signature sounds. One may think that a western attempt would completely miss the mark (or, as they tend to, miss the point completely) on such an unmistakable style, though Ringu’s remake The Ring proved to be as good if not a more accessible way to deliver its story to a wider audience. 

When journalist Rachael (Naomi Watts) comes across a videotape that allegedly kills people seven days after watching, she must act quickly to decipher the meaning behind the object before it claims her own life. Featuring a solid performance from Naomi Watts along with a morbidly bleak atmosphere and some horrendously chilling imagery, The Ring managed to take an age-old Japanese urban legend and present it in a way certain to scare the worldwide masses. As if Ringu wasn’t unnerving enough.

The story itself is, as you may have guessed, based on an old Japanese legend dating as far back as the 12th century. Somewhere between 1333 and 1346 a fort now known as Himeji Castle was erected on Himeyama hill in western Japan. A samurai named Tessan Aoyama was said to have taken a particular fancy to a young servant of his named Okiku, so much of a fancy in fact that he vowed to take her away and marry her. When she refused his advances, the samurai hid one of the ten priceless golden plates Okiku was charged with looking after. He told her that if she did not agree to marry him he would openly blame her for the plate’s disappearance, an accusation that would undoubtedly lead to her being tortured and executed. In full knowledge of her predicament, Okiku was said to have committed suicide by throwing herself into a well in the castle grounds. Each night, so the tale goes, she would crawl back out of the well, appearing to Aoyama on a nightly basis until he went mad from her haunts. She was regularly heard counting the plates she had sworn to protect, throwing a destructive tantrum whenever she realised that number ten was still missing. 

Ringu proves that a terrifying story does not have to be wholly original; sometimes a rework of an ancient tale will do just nicely. 

Candyman 1992

Candyman Urban Legend Horror Movie Poster with a bee in an eye

Candyman is the quintessential urban legend brought to life. Based on a 1985 Clive Barker short story entitled The Forbidden, the film shares a few similarities. The infamous Candyman, with his aura of bees and hook for a hand, will appear to anyone who either uses his name in vain or flat out refuses to believe in him. Say his name five times in a mirror (yep, that’s where that came from) and he’ll appear behind you, ready to drive his deadly hook into your tender form. That’s if you’re brave or stupid enough to even bother.

A graduate student named Helen comes across the Candyman legend while researching her thesis paper. Her examination into the insidious entity brings his attention right back on her, and soon she finds herself fighting for her life against an age-old evil that apparently only she didn’t know not to mess with.

Candyman has taken his share of inspiration from several sources, most notable of which being the Hookman legend. In the story, a young couple are getting steamy in a parked car when an emergency radio bulletin says that a mental patient with a hook for a hand has escaped the nearby asylum. The girl becomes terrified when she hears something scraping along the car, convincing the boy to drive off. When he does, neither of them notice the metal hook hanging from the door handle. While the similarities here are purely aesthetic, the Hookman appearance is unmistakable in any form.

The other clear inspiration for this 1992 classic is one of the many manifestations of the ‘say their name five times in a mirror’ dare, Bloody Mary. One of the most widely known tales to date, Bloody Mary is said to have been a witch who was burned for practicing black magic, though more modern retellings say that she was a young woman who died in a car crash. Every kid’s first sleepover isn’t complete without a game of Bloody Mary, making her one of the first spirits many of us will have encountered.

Links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bermuda_Triangle_incidents

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1187064/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185937/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0

https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/blair-witch-project-true-story-burkittsville-maryland

https://www.mirror.co.uk/film/blair-witch-real-truth-behind-8844017

https://www.vice.com/en/article/8xzy4p/blair-witch-project-oral-history-20th-anniversary

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himeji_Castle

https://screenrant.com/candyman-movie-real-urban-legends-inspiration-tony-todd/

https://www.popsugar.co.uk/entertainment/where-does-candyman-legend-come-from-47313482

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Featured

Chasing Transgressions: Censoring Excess in Exploitative Horror

Ever since the introduction of the Hays Code in 1927, films in the horror genre have fought to remain true to the voice of the genre. The consistency in which film creators have chipped away at those codes since their inception has brought us to where we are today; while movies like Hellraiser (1987) have still had to deal with censorship before they premiered, what is deemed excessive or exploitative is brought to new heights with each film that dares to push the limits.

Fully banned in Kansas…

When Frankenstein (1931) was first released, the local Kansas board banned it for the entire state; thousands of unhappy moviegoers wanted access, so eventually, the board relented. The Kansas board bastardized the movie with so many cuts that it, “would have stripped it of all its horrific elements,” which brought the intervention of the MPDDA and fewer cuts (Petley 132). The film standards that were enforced in the 1930s didn’t take into account the production of the horror genre; after wondering where the line would be drawn for a genre that consistently dug further into the dark, it was decided that:

As long as monsters refrained from illicit sexual activity, respected the clergy, and maintained silence on controversial political matters, they might walk with impunity where bad girls, gangsters, and radicals feared to tread.

(Cited in Petley 131)

Those standards wouldn’t last for long. The lines within horror are blurred, humans can be the monsters who don’t refrain from illicit sexual activity, demonic representations within films regularly disrespect the clergy, and have had a tendency to be outspoken on controversial political matters [see Night of the Living Dead (1968)]. Censorship for violent or graphic content was incredibly strict from the inception of the Hays Code until the 1960s when the standards for censorship were relaxed (Petley 130).

With the growing popularity of television sets in the home came tight restrictions for television programs. Televisions made entertainment easily accessible to people in the comfort of their own homes—this created stiff competition for filmmakers. While television standards were stricter, it allowed film production codes to be lowered in order to lure viewers back to the theater with the prospect of seeing something more forbidden. When Hellraiser was first released in 1987, audiences may have been a little shocked at the overt sexualization of pain and violence.

The graphic nature of the gruesome torture scenes cut in between scenes of sexual conquest and that starts within the first fifteen minutes. The mise-en-scène we are given with Julia’s flashback to her affair with her soon-to-be husband’s brother Frank sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Frank appears at the door, confident if not rude and slightly mysterious, drenched from the downpour of rain. He imposes himself upon Julia and we see her in her most innocent and unassuming form—cut to her walking into the third floor attic, a dusty, dingy, room in ill repair, to be alone with her thoughts.

Every inclusion of prop, from the knife that he cuts her nightgown strap with, to the wedding dress he lays her down upon to begin their torrid love affair, is essential to the story. Frank will take what he wants from Julia; having never been with a man who so confidently takes what he desires, Julia falls lustfully into their fervent and passionate, if not taboo, lovemaking. Engaging with Frank atop her pure white gown, sullying her presumable innocent reputation, is at the core of what Hellraiser translates to. Pleasure that feels sinful, Pain that feels pleasurable—two things that, with the Lament Configuration, blend together seamlessly.

The scene continues, cutting from the flashback of the affair to present-day Julia in longing remembrance, and then to her husband as he struggles to move a bed into their home. Frank and Julia climax in the flashback, Julia begins to cry, and Larry cuts himself deeply on a nail protruding from a wall. In these five minutes, we have excess in the taboo sexual act of cheating, the emotional show of Julia’s aching desire for Frank, and the adverse reaction Larry has to his own hand gushing blood. The movie continues on in this manner, unapologetic and all the more entertaining for it—we spend the next few minutes watching the floorboard soak up Larry’s blood and subsequently reconstitute most of Frank’s body.

Pinhead from Hellraiser

Torture Porn and Erotica?

Some people might have found those two scenes to be subversive or even repulsive—some, according to movie critics at the time, found it comical. As if the excess pushed it from a horrifying experience, to a campy overdone joke. I think, when appreciated for the time it was created and given a little benefit of the doubt, it sows the seeds of a completely gratifying horror experience. Any attempt to relate to Julia, one might actually feel sorry for her—she feels as if she’s fallen in love with Frank and that he loves her back. The truth that she doesn’t really take into consideration is that desire and love don’t always coexist; Frank doesn’t actually care about Julia past using her for his own personal gain. We find out later, Frank’s coercive nature leads her to bring back men for him to feed off of and escape hell. Her own selfish desires lead her to assume that once he’s back in his skin (quite literally), they’ll rekindle their love-affair.

Violence and sex have had a tendency to be viewed differently in different countries. Where America has historically fallen back on christian outrage when it comes to depictions of sex (especially premarital sex) on the big screen, violence has been considered more acceptable. Alternatively, as Dumas has noted, countries like Sweden have had the opposite policy (29). People experience an incredible amount of shame and anxiety surrounding their own sexual desires that may or may not be considered taboo within an otherwise moral society—this of course causes an internal conflict for the audience (Dumas 29). What’s more is when Hellraiser’s Pinhead suggests that, “pleasure and pain (are) indistinguishable,” within his realm, it cements the concept of sexualizing brutality.

A certain morbid curiosity has escalated the gory nature of horror films with the release of each new feature. Post 9/11 audiences seemed to be even more desensitized than before—torture porn like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) hit the theaters—horror fans flocked to experience the repulsion and anxiety that comes with watching the suffering of others (Pinedo 345). A world where fear and uncertainty were becoming more commonplace, there became a vaccuum for horror. These gratuitous, taboo, excessive movies gave viewers a space in which we were free to be afraid.

Excess turns exploitative when the horror no longer fits around an underlying story, but instead, a story is made to fit around underlying ideas of violence and repulsion. Like pornography that attempts to have a plot—just look at any motion-picture porn parody—exploitative horror like The Human Centipede (2009), I Spit on Your Grave (2010), A Serbian Film (2010), and Tusk (2014) is simply an excuse to showcase gratuitous violence. These films are still liable to be heavily cut (Petley 146-147) and for good reason.

What is interesting is that such exploitative films are defended regularly, but are they films that need to be defended? A Serbian Film’s subject matter is indefensible, yet there are people who try to reason away the infant rape scene by bringing up that it wasn’t a real infant. Regardless of whether it’s a real infant or not, it’s meant to convey the scene in the most realistic way possible so as to instigate a severe repulsion response. It’s even suggested that “the masochistic and sadistic aspects of the film-viewing experience [implies] that viewers get some form of sexual gratification from these images,” (Pinedo 347) which in the case of A Serbian Film is beyond horrifying.

Horror and sex have a long, intertwined history, the eroticization of depictions of violence is nothing new. However, a horror film’s ability to stimulate viewers sexually, “not only draws their attention, but also primes them to react more strongly to other feelings, such as suspense and fear,” (Pinedo 347). In the end, what is considered exploitative or excessive is dependent upon the audience—there will always be those who object, just like there will always be those who call for more violence, gore, repulsion, and explicit sexual content.

Strong reactions and emotions have historically created experiences fewer people can forget. As an example, who can forget the release of Hostel in 2005, where viewers were not only fleeing the theater, they were reportedly throwing up in their seats. If the saying, “there’s no such thing as bad press,” is true—which it certainly seems to be within the horror genre—then these outrageous claims of such violent repulsion created a more morbidly curious audience.

Works Cited

Dumas, Chris. “Horror and Psychoanalysis: An Introductory Primer.” A Companion to the Horror Film, edited by Harry Benshoff, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 21–37.

Petley, Julian. “Horror and the Censors.” A Companion to the Horror Film, edited by Harry Benshoff, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 130–147.

Pinedo, Isabel C. “Torture Porn: 21st Century Horror.” A Companion to the Horror Film, edited by Harry Benshoff, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 345–61.